Persian Literature, Volume 1,Comprising The Shah Nameh, The
Part 8 out of 9
Sikander left the place in sorrow, and pursued his way towards Rum. In
his progress he arrived at another city, and the inhabitants gave him
the most honorable welcome, representing to him, however, that they were
dreadfully afflicted by the presence of two demons or giants, who
constantly assailed them in the night, devouring men and goats and
whatever came in their way. Sikander asked their names; and they
replied, Yajuj and Majuj (Gog and Magog). He immediately ordered a
barrier to be erected five hundred yards high, and three hundred yards
wide, and when it was finished he went away. The giants, notwithstanding
all their efforts, were unable to scale this barrier, and in consequence
the inhabitants pursued their occupations without the fear of
To scenes of noble daring still he turned
His ardent spirit--for he knew not fear.
Still he led on his legions--and now came
To a strange place, where countless numbers met
His wondering view--countless inhabitants
Crowding the city streets, and neighbouring plains;
And in the distance presently he saw
A lofty mountain reaching to the stars.
Onward proceeding, at its foot he found
A guardian-dragon, terrible in form,
Ready with open jaws to crush his victim;
But unappalled, Sikander him beholding
With steady eye, which scorned to turn aside,
Sprang forward, and at once the monster slew.
Ascending then the mountain, many a ridge,
Oft resting on the way, he reached the summit,
Where the dead corse of an old saint appeared
Wrapt in his grave-clothes, and in gems imbedded.
In gold and precious jewels glittering round,
Seeming to show what man is, mortal man!
Wealth, worldly pomp, the baubles of ambition,
All left behind, himself a heap of dust!
None ever went upon that mountain top,
But sought for knowledge; and Sikander hoped
When he had reached its cloudy eminence,
To see the visions of futurity
Arise from that departed, holy man!
And soon he heard a voice: "Thy time is nigh!
Yet may I thy career on earth unfold.
It will be thine to conquer many a realm,
Win many a crown; thou wilt have many friends
And numerous foes, and thy devoted head
Will be uplifted to the very heavens.
Renowned and glorious shalt thou be; thy name
Immortal; but, alas! thy time is nigh!"
At these prophetic words Sikander wept,
And from that ominous mountain hastened down.
After that Sikander journeyed on to the city of Kashan, where he fell
sick, and in a few days, according to the oracle and the prophecy,
expired. He had scarcely breathed his last, when Aristu, and Bilniyas
the physician, and his family, entered Kashan, and found him dead. They
beat their faces, and tore their hair, and mourned for him forty days.
Thee I invoke, the Lord of Life and Light!
Beyond imagination pure and bright!
To thee, sufficing praise no tongue can give,
We are thy creatures, and in thee we live!
Thou art the summit, depth, the all in all,
Creator, Guardian of this earthly ball;
Whatever is, thou art--Protector, King,
From thee all goodness, truth, and mercy spring.
O pardon the misdeeds of him who now
Bends in thy presence with a suppliant brow.
Teach them to tread the path thy Prophet trod;
To wash his heart from sin, to know his God;
And gently lead him to that home of rest,
Where filled with holiest rapture dwell the blest.
Saith not that book divine, from Heaven supplied,
"Mustafa is the true, the unerring guide,
The purest, greatest Prophet!" Next him came
Wise Abu Buker, of unblemished name;
Then Omer taught the faith, unknown to guile,
And made the world with vernal freshness smile;
Then Othman brave th' imperial priesthood graced;
All, led by him, the Prophet's faith embraced.
The fourth was Ali; he, the spouse adored
Of Fatima, then spread the saving word.
Ali, of whom Mahommed spoke elate,
"I am the city of knowledge--he my gate."
Ali the blest. Whoever shall recline
A supplicant at his all-powerful shrine,
Enjoys both this life and the next; in this,
All earthly good, in that, eternal bliss!
From records true my legends I rehearse,
And string the pearls of wisdom in my verse,
That in the glimmering days of life's decline,
Its fruits, in wealth and honor, may be mine.
My verse, a structure pointing to the skies;
Whose solid strength destroying time defies.
All praise the noble work, save only those
Of impious life, or base malignant foes;
All blest with learning read, and read again,
The sovereign smiles, and thus approves my strain:
"Richer by far, Firdusi, than a mine
Of precious gems, is this bright lay of thine."
Centuries may pass away, but still my page
Will be the boast of each succeeding age.
Praise, praise to Mahmud, who of like renown,
In battle or the banquet, fills the throne;
Lord of the realms of Chin and Hindustan,
Sovereign and Lord of Persia and Turan,
With his loud voice he rends the flintiest ear;
On land a tiger fierce, untouched by fear,
And on the wave, he seems the crocodile
That prowls amidst the waters of the Nile.
Generous and brave, his equal is unknown;
In deeds of princely worth he stands alone.
The infant in the cradle lisps his name;
The world exults in Mahmud's spotless fame.
In festive hours Heaven smiles upon his truth;
In combat deadly as the dragon's tooth;
Bounteous in all things, his exhaustless hand
Diffuses blessings through the grateful land;
And, of the noblest thoughts and actions, lord;
The soul of Gabriel breathes in every word,
May Heaven with added glory crown his days;
Praise, praise to mighty Mahmud--everlasting praise!
FIRDUSI'S SATIRE ON MAHMUD
Know, tyrant as thou art, this earthly state
Is not eternal, but of transient date;
Fear God, then, and afflict not human-kind;
To merit Heaven, be thou to Heaven resigned.
Afflict not even the Ant; though weak and small,
It breathes and lives, and life is sweet to all.
Knowing my temper, firm, and stern, and bold,
Didst thou not, tyrant, tremble to behold
My sword blood-dropping? Hadst thou not the sense
To shrink from giving man like me offence?
What could impel thee to an act so base?
What, but to earn and prove thy own disgrace?
Why was I sentenced to be trod upon,
And crushed to death by elephants? By one
Whose power I scorn! Couldst thou presume that I
Would be appalled by thee, whom I defy?
I am the lion, I, inured to blood,
And make the impious and the base my food;
And I could grind thy limbs, and spread them far
As Nile's dark waters their rich treasures bear.
Fear thee! I fear not man, but God alone,
I only bow to his Almighty throne.
Inspired by Him my ready numbers flow;
Guarded by Him I dread no earthly foe.
Thus in the pride of song I pass my days,
Offering to Heaven my gratitude and praise.
From every trace of sense and feeling free,
When thou art dead, what will become of thee?
If thou shouldst tear me limb from limb, and cast
My dust and ashes to the angry blast,
Firdusi still would live, since on thy name,
Mahmud, I did not rest my hopes of fame
In the bright page of my heroic song,
But on the God of Heaven, to whom belong
Boundless thanksgivings, and on Him whose love
Supports the Faithful in the realms above,
The mighty Prophet! none who e'er reposed
On Him, existence without hope has closed.
And thou wouldst hurl me underneath the tread
Of the wild elephant, till I were dead!
Dead! by that insult roused, I should become
An elephant in power, and seal thy doom--
Mahmud! if fear of man hath never awed
Thy heart, at least fear thy Creator, God.
Full many a warrior of illustrious worth,
Full many of humble, of imperial birth:
Tur, Silim, Jemshid, Minuchihr the brave,
Have died; for nothing had the power to save
These mighty monarchs from the common doom;
They died, but blest in memory still they bloom.
Thus kings too perish--none on earth remain,
Since all things human seek the dust again.
O, had thy father graced a kingly throne,
Thy mother been for royal virtues known,
A different fate the poet then had shared,
Honors and wealth had been his just reward;
But how remote from thee a glorious line!
No high, ennobling ancestry is thine;
From a vile stock thy bold career began,
A Blacksmith was thy sire of Isfahan.
Alas! from vice can goodness ever spring?
Is mercy hoped for in a tyrant king?
Can water wash the Ethiopian white?
Can we remove the darkness from the night?
The tree to which a bitter fruit is given,
Would still be bitter in the bowers of Heaven;
And a bad heart keeps on its vicious course;
Or if it changes, changes for the worse;
Whilst streams of milk, where Eden's flowrets blow,
Acquire more honied sweetness as they flow.
The reckless king who grinds the poor like thee,
Must ever be consigned to infamy!
Now mark Firdusi's strain, his Book of Kings
Will ever soar upon triumphant wings.
All who have listened to its various lore
Rejoice, the wise grow wiser than before;
Heroes of other times, of ancient days,
Forever flourish in my sounding lays;
Have I not sung of Kaus, Tus, and Giw;
Of matchless Rustem, faithful, still, and true.
Of the great Demon-binder, who could throw
His kamund to the Heavens, and seize his foe!
Of Husheng, Feridun, and Sam Suwar,
Lohurasp, Kai-khosrau, and Isfendiyar;
Gushtasp, Arjasp, and him of mighty name,
Gudarz, with eighty sons of martial fame!
The toil of thirty years is now complete,
Record sublime of many a warlike feat,
Written midst toil and trouble, but the strain
Awakens every heart, and will remain
A lasting stimulus to glorious deeds;
For even the bashful maid, who kindling reads,
Becomes a warrior. Thirty years of care,
Urged on by royal promise, did I bear,
And now, deceived and scorned, the aged bard
Is basely cheated of his pledged reward!
[FOOTNOTES to the SHAH NAMEH]
[Footnote 1: Love at first sight, and of the most enthusiastic kind, is
the passion described in all Persian poems, as if a whole life of love
were condensed into one moment. It is all wild and rapturous. It has
nothing of a rational cast. A casual glance from an unknown beauty often
affords the subject of a poem. The poets whom Dr. Johnson has
denominated metaphysical, such as Donne, Jonson, and Cowley, bear a
strong resemblance to the Persians on the subject of love.
Now, sure, within this twelvemonth past,
I've loved at least some twenty years or more;
Th' account of love runs much more fast,
Than that with which our life does score:
So, though my life be short, yet I may prove,
The Great Methusalem of love!!!
"Love and Life."--Cowley.
The odes of Hafiz also, with all their spirit and richness of
expression, abound in conceit and extravagant metaphor. There is,
however, something very beautiful in the passage which may be
Zephyr thro' thy locks is straying,
Stealing fragrance, charms displaying;
Should it pass where Hafiz lies,
From his conscious dust would rise,
Flowrets of a thousand dyes!]
[Footnote 2: Ancient Scythia embraced the whole of Turan and the
northern part of Persia. The Turanians are the Scythians of the Greek
Historians, who are said, about the year B.C. 639, to have invaded the
kingdom of the Medes.
Turan, which is the ancient name of the country of Turkistan, appears
from Des Guignes, to be the source and fountain of all the celebrated
Scythian nations, which, under the name of Goths and Vandals,
subsequently overran the Roman empire. Iran and Turan, according to the
Oriental historians, comprehended all that is comprised in upper Asia,
with the exception of India and China. Every country beyond the pale of
the Persian empire was considered barbarous. The great river called by
the Arabs and Persians, Jihun or Amu, and by the Greeks and Romans,
Oxus, divided these two great countries from each other.]
[Footnote 3: Sam, Sam Suwar, was the son of Nariman. He is said to have
vanquished or tamed a great number of animals and terrible monsters,
amongst which was one remarkable for its ferocity. This furious animal
was called Soham, on account of its being of the color and nature of
fire. According to fabulous history, he made it his war-horse, in all
his engagements against the Demons.]
[Footnote 4: The sex of this fabulous animal is not clearly made out! It
tells Zal that it had nursed him like a _father_, and therefore I have,
in this place, adopted the masculine gender, though the preserver of
young ones might authorize its being considered a female. The Simurgh is
probably neither one nor the other, or both! Some have likened the
Simurgh to the Ippogrif or Griffin; but the Simurgh is plainly a biped;
others again have supposed that the fable simply meant a holy recluse of
the mountains, who nourished and educated the poor child which had been
abandoned by its father.]
[Footnote 5: This custom is derived from the earliest ages of Persia,
and has been continued down to the present times with no abatement of
its pomp or splendor Mr. Morier thus speaks of the progress of the
Embassy to Persia:--
"An Istakbal composed of fifty horsemen of our Mehmandar's tribe,
met us about three miles from our encampment; they were succeeded as
we advanced by an assemblage on foot, who threw a glass vessel
filled with sweetmeats beneath the Envoy's horse, a ceremony which
we had before witnessed at Kauzeroon, and which we again understood
to be an honor shared with the King and his sons alone. Then came
two of the principal merchants of Shiraz, accompanied by a boy, the
son of Mahomed Nebee Khan, the new Governor of Bushere. They,
however, incurred the Envoy's displeasure by not dismounting from
their horses, a form always observed in Persia by those of lower
rank, when they met a superior. We were thus met by three Istakbals
during the course of the day."]
[Footnote 6: The province of Mazinderan, of which the principal city is
Amol, comprehends the whole of the southern coast of the Caspian sea. It
was known to the ancients by the name of Hyrcania. At the period to
which the text refers, the country was in the possession of demons.]
[Footnote 7: The fort called Killah Suffeed, lies about seventy-six
miles northwest of the city of Shiraz. It is of an oblong form, and
encloses a level space at the top of the mountain, which is covered with
delightful verdure, and watered by numerous springs. The ascent is near
three miles, and for the last five or six hundred yards, the summit is
so difficult of approach, that the slightest opposition, if well
directed, must render it impregnable.]
[Footnote 8: The numerical strength of the Persian and Turanian forces
appears prodigious on all occasions, but nothing when compared with the
army under Xerxes at Thermopylae, which, with the numerous retinue of
servants, eunuchs, and women that attended it, is said to have amounted
to no less than 5,283,220 souls.]
[Footnote 9: Herodotus speaks of a people confederated with the army of
Xerxes, who employed the noose. "Their principal dependence in action is
upon cords made of twisted leather, which they use in this manner: when
they engage an enemy, they throw out these cords, having a noose at the
extremity; if they entangle in them either horse or man, they without
difficulty put them to death."--Beloe's transl. Polymnia, Sec. 85.]
[Footnote 10: Istakhar, also called Persepolis, and Chehel-minar, or the
Forty Pillars. This city was said to have been laid in ruins by
Alexander after the conquest of Darius.]
[Footnote 11: Kai-kaus, the second King of Persia of the dynasty called
Kaianides. He succeeded Kai-kobad, about six hundred years B.C.
According to Firdusi he was a foolish tyrannical prince. He appointed
Rustem captain-general of the armies, to which the lieutenant-generalship
and the administration of the state was annexed, under the title of "the
champion of the world." He also gave him a taj, or crown of gold, which
kings only were accustomed to wear, and granted him the privilege of
giving audience seated on a throne of gold. It is said that Kai-kaus
applied himself much to the study of astronomy, and that he founded two
great observatories, the one at Babel, and the other on the Tigris.]
[Footnote 12: The armor called Burgustuwan almost covered the horse, and
as usually made of leather and felt-cloth.]
[Footnote 13: In this hunting excursion he is completely armed, being
supplied with spear, sword, shield, mace, bow and arrows. Like the
knight-errants of after times, he seldom even slept unarmed. Single
combat and the romantic enterprises of European Chivalry may indeed be
traced to the East. Rustem was a most illustrious example of all that is
pious, disinterested, and heroic. The adventure now describing is highly
characteristic of a chivalrous age. In the Dissertation prefixed to
Richardson's Dictionary, mention is made of a famous Arabian
Knight-errant called Abu Mahommud Albatal, "who wandered everywhere in
quest of adventures, and redressing grievances. He was killed in the
[Footnote 14: As a proof of her innocence Tahmineh declares to Rustem,
"No person has ever seen me out of my private chamber, or even heard the
sound of my voice." It is but just to remark, that the seclusion in
which women of rank continue in Persia, and other parts of the East, is
not, by them, considered intolerable, or even a hardship. Custom has not
only rendered it familiar, but happy. It has nothing of the unprofitable
severity of the cloister. The Zenanas are supplied with everything that
can please and gratify a reasonable wish, and it is well known that the
women of the East have influence and power, more flattering and solid,
than the free unsecluded beauties of the Western world.]
[Footnote 15: In Percy's Collection, there is an old song which contains
a similar idea.
You meaner beauties of the night,
That poorly satisfie our eies,
More by your number, than your light;
You common people of the skies,
What are you when the Moon shall rise?
SIR HENRY WOTTON.]
[Footnote 16: Kus is a tymbal, or large brass drum, which is beat in the
palaces or camps of Eastern Princes.]
[Footnote 17: It appears throughout the Shah Nameh that whenever any
army was put in motion, the inhabitants and the country, whether hostile
or friendly, were equally given up to plunder and devastation, and
"Everything in their progress was burnt and destroyed."]
[Footnote 18: Literally, Human was not at first aware that Sohrab was
wounded in the LIVER. In this organ, Oriental as well as the Greek and
Roman poets, place the residence of love.]
[Footnote 19: The paper upon which the letters of royal and
distinguished personages in the East are written is usually perfumed,
and covered with curious devices in gold. This was scented with amber.
The degree of embellishment is generally regulated according to the rank
of the party.]
[Footnote 20: Four days were consumed in uninterrupted feasting. This
seems to have been an ancient practice previous to the commencement of
any important undertaking, or at setting out on a journey.]
[Footnote 21: Zuara, it will be remembered, was the brother of Rustem,
and had the immediate superintendence of the Zabul troops.]
[Footnote 22: The original is, "Seize and inflict upon him the
punishment of the dar." According to Burhani-katia, dar is a tree upon
which felons are hanged. But the general acceptation of the term is
breaking or tearing the body upon a stake.]
[Footnote 23: In this speech Rustem recounts the services which he had
performed for Kaus. He speaks of his conquests in Egypt, China,
Hamaveran, Rum, Suk-sar, and Mazinderan. Thus Achilles boasts of his
unrequited achievements in the cause of Greece.
The warriors now, with sad forebodings wrung,
I sacked twelve ample cities on the main,
And twelve lay smoking on the Trojan plain.
POPE.--Iliad ix. 328.]
[Footnote 24: Literally, "Kings ought to be endowed with judgment and
discretion; no advantage can arise from impetuosity and rage." Gudarz
was one of the greatest generals of Persia, he conquered Judea, and took
Jerusalem under the reign of Lohurasp, of the first dynasty of Persia,
and sustained many wars against Afrasiyab under the Kings of the second
dynasty. He was the father of Giw, who is also celebrated for his valor
in the following reigns. The opinion of this venerable and distinguished
warrior appears to have had considerable weight and influence with
[Footnote 25: Kaus, in acknowledging the violence Of his disposition,
uses a singular phrase: "When you departed in anger, Champion! I
repented; ashes fell into my mouth." A similar metaphor is used in
Hindustani: If a person falls under the displeasure of his friend, he
says, "Ashes have fallen into my meat": meaning, that his happiness is
[Footnote 26: This is one of Firdusi's favorite similes.
"My heart became as slender as the new moon."]
[Footnote 27: The beautiful arbors referred to in the text are often
included within the walls of Eastern palaces. They are fancifully fitted
up, and supplied with reservoirs, fountains, and flower-trees. These
romantic garden-pavilions are called Kiosks in Turkey, and are generally
situated upon an eminence near a running stream.]
[Footnote 28: Milton alludes to this custom in Paradise Lost:
Where the gorgeous east with richest hand
Showers on her Kings barbaric pearl and gold.
In the note on this passage by Warburton, it is said to have been an
eastern ceremony, at the coronation of their Kings, to powder them with
gold-dust and seed-pearl. The expression in Firdusi is, "he showered or
scattered gems." It was usual at festivals, and the custom still exists,
to throw money amongst the people. In Hafiz, the term used is nisar,
which is of the same import. Clarke, in the second volume of his
Travels, speaks of the four principal Sultanas of the Seraglio at
Constantinople being powdered with diamonds:
"Long spangled robes, open in front, with pantaloons embroidered in
gold and silver, and covered by a profusion of pearls and precious
stones, displayed their persons to great advantage. Their hair hung in
loose and very thick tresses on each side of their cheeks, falling
quite down to the waist, and covering their shoulders behind. Those
tresses were quite powdered with diamonds, not displayed according to
any studied arrangement, but as if carelessly scattered, by handfuls,
among their flowing locks."
--Vol. ii. p. 14.]
[Footnote 29: In his descriptions of battle-array, Firdusi seldom omits
"golden slippers," which, however, I have not preserved in this place.]
[Footnote 30: The original is Sandur[=u]s, sandaraca; for which I have
substituted amber, Sandur[=u]s is the Arabic name for Gum Juniper.]
[Footnote 31: The banners were adorned with the figure of an elephant,
to denote his royal descent.]
[Footnote 32: The text says that he was also the son-in-law of Rustem.]
[Footnote 33: The word Guraz signifies a wild boar, but this acceptation
is not very accordant to Mussulman notions, and consequently it is not
supposed, by the orthodox, to have that meaning in the text. It is
curious that the name of the warrior, Guraz, should correspond with the
bearings on the standard. This frequently obtains in the heraldry of
Europe. Family bearings seem to be used in every country of any degree
of civilization. Krusenstern, the Russian circumnavigator, speaking of
the Japanese, says, "Everyone has his family arms worked into his
clothes, in different places, about the size of a half dollar, a
practice usual to both sexes; and in this manner any person may be
recognized, and the family to which he belongs easily ascertained. A
young lady wears her father's arms until after her marriage, when she
assumes those of her husband. The greatest mark of honor which a Prince
or a Governor can confer upon any one, is to give him a cloak with his
arms upon it, the person having such a one wearing his own arms upon his
[Footnote 34: Firdusi considers this to be destiny! It would have been
natural in Sohrab to have gloried in the fame of his father, but from an
inevitable dispensation, his lips are here sealed on that subject; and
he inquires of Rustem as if he only wanted to single him out for the
purpose of destroying him. The people of Persia are all fatalists.]
[Footnote 35: This passage will remind the classical reader of the
speech of Themistocles, in Plutarch, addressed to Xerxes. The Persian
King had assured him of his protection, and ordered him to declare
freely whatever he had to propose concerning Greece. Themistocles
replied, that a man's discourse was like a piece of tapestry which, when
spread open, displays its figures; but when it is folded up, they are
hidden and lost; therefore he begged time. The King, delighted with the
comparison, bade him take what time he pleased; and he desired a year;
in which space he learned the Persian language, so as to be able to
converse with the King without an interpreter.]
[Footnote 36: Hujir was the son of Gudarz. A family of the extent
mentioned in the text is not of rare occurrence amongst the Princes of
the East. The King of Persia had, in 1809, according to Mr. Morier,
"sixty-five sons!" As the Persians make no account of females, it is not
known how many daughters he had.]
[Footnote 37: The Kulub-gah is the centre or heart of the army, where
the Sovereign or Chief of the troops usually remains.]
[Footnote 38: Ahirmun, a demon, the principle of evil.]
[Footnote 39: This girdle was the gift of the king, as a token of
affection and gratitude. Jonathan gives to David, among other things,
his girdle: "Because he loved him as his own soul."--I Samuel, xviii. 3.
[Footnote 40: A crocodile in war, with Firdusi, is a figure of great
power and strength.]
[Footnote 41: It is difficult to account for this denial of his name, as
there appears to be no equivalent cause. But all the famous heroes,
described in the Shah Nameh, are as much distinguished for their address
and cunning, as their bravery.]
[Footnote 42: The original is Um[=u]d, which appears to have been a
weapon made of iron. Um[=u]d also signifies a column, a beam.]
[Footnote 43: Thus also Sa'di "Knowest thou What Zal said to Rustem the
Champion? Never calculate upon the weakness or insignificance of an
[Footnote 44: Rustem is as much distinguished for piety as bravery.
Every success is attributed by him to the favor of Heaven. In the
achievement of his labors in the Heft-Khan, his devotion is constant and
he everywhere justly acknowledges that power and victory are derived
from God alone.]
[Footnote 45: The expression in the original is remarkable. "Assuredly,
as thou hast thirsted for blood, Destiny will also thirst for thine, and
the very hairs upon thy body will become daggers to destroy thee." This
passage is quoted in the preface to the Shah Nameh, collated by order of
Bayisunghur Khan, as the production of the poet Unsari. Unsari was one
of the seven poets whom Mahmud appointed to give specimens of their
powers in versifying the History of the Kings of Persia. The story of
Rustem and Sohrab fell to Unsari, and his arrangement of it contained
the above verses, which so delighted the Sultan that he directed the
poet to undertake the whole work. This occurred before Firdusi was
introduced at Court and eclipsed every competitor. In compliment to
Mahmud, perhaps he ingrafted them on his own poem, or more probably they
have been interpolated since.]
[Footnote 46: Jemshid's glory and misfortunes, as said before, are the
constant theme of admiration and reflection amongst the poets of
[Footnote 47: These medicated draughts are often mentioned in Romances.
The reader will recollect the banter upon them in Don Quixote, where the
Knight of La enumerates to Sancho the cures which had been performed
upon many valorous champions, covered with wounds. The Hindus, in their
books on medicine, talk of drugs for the recovery of the dead!]
[Footnote 48: Zuara conducted the troops of Afrasiyab across the Jihun.
Rustem remained on the field of battle till his return.]
[Footnote 49: Manijeh was the daughter of Afrasiyab.]
[Footnote 50: Theocritus introduces a Greek singing-girl in Idyllium xv,
at the festival of Adonis. In the Arabian Nights, the Caliph is
represented at his feasts surrounded by troops of the most beautiful
females playing on various instruments.]
[Footnote 51: Kashan is here made to be the deathplace of Alexander,
whilst, according to the Greek historians, he died suddenly at Babylon,
as foretold by the magicians, on the 21st of April, B.C. 323, in the
thirty-second year of his age.]
THE RUBAIYAT OF OMAR KHAYYAM
[_Translation by Edward Fitzgerald_]
It is seldom that we come across a poem which it is impossible to
classify in accordance with European standards. Yet such a poem is
Omar's "Rubaiyat." If elegiac poetry is the expression of subjective
emotion, sentiment, and thought, we might class this Persian masterpiece
as elegy; but an elegy is a sustained train of connected imagery and
reflection. The "Rubaiyat" is, on the other hand, a string of quatrains,
each of which has all the complete and independent significance of an
epigram. Yet there is so little of that lightness which should
characterize an epigram that we can scarcely put Omar in the same
category with Martial, and it is easy to understand why the author
should have been contented to name his book the "Rubaiyat," or
Quatrains, leaving it to each individual to make, if he chooses, a more
definite description of the work. To English readers, Mr. Edward
Fitzgerald's version of the poem has provided one of the most masterly
translations that was ever made from an Oriental classic. For Omar, like
Hafiz, is one of the most Persian of Persian writers. There is in this
volume all the gorgeousness of the East: all the luxury of the most
refined civilization. Omar's bowers are always full of roses; the notes
of the nightingale tremble through his stanzas. The intoxication of wine
and the bright eyes of lovely women are ever present to his mind. The
feast, the revel, the joys of love, and the calm satisfaction of
appetite make up the grosser elements in his song. But the prevailing
note of his music is that of deep and settled melancholy, breaking out
occasionally into words of misanthropy and despair. The keenness and
intensity of this poet's style seem to be inspired by an ever-present
fear of death. This sense of approaching Fate is never absent from him,
even in his most genial moments; and the strange fascination which he
exercises over his readers is largely due to the thrilling sweetness of
some passage which ends in a note of dejection and anguish.
Strange to say, Omar was the greatest mathematician of his day. The
exactness of his fine and analytic mind is reflected in the exquisite
finish, the subtile wit, the delicate descriptive touches, that abound
in his Quatrains. His verses hang together like gems of the purest water
exquisitely cut and clasped by "jacinth work of subtlest jewelry." But
apart from their masterly technique, these Quatrains exhibit in their
general tone the revolt of a clear intellect from the prevailing bigotry
and fanaticism of an established religion. There is in the poet's mind
the lofty indignation of one who sees, in its true light, the narrowness
of an ignorant and hypocritical clergy, yet can find no solid ground on
which to build up for himself a theory of supernaturalism, illumined by
hope. Yet there are traces of Mysticism in his writings, which only
serve to emphasize his profound longing for some knowledge of the
invisible, and his foreboding that the grave is the "be-all" and
"end-all" of life. The poet speaks in tones of bitterest lamentation
when he sees succumb to Fate all that is bright and fresh and beautiful.
At his brightest moments he gives expression to a vague pantheism, but
all his views of the power that lies behind life are obscured and
perturbed by sceptical despondency. He is the great man of science, who,
like other men of genius too deeply immersed in the study of natural law
or abstract reasoning, has lost all touch with that great world of
spiritual things which we speak of as religion, and which we can only
come in contact with through those instinctive emotions which scientific
analysis very often does so much to stifle. There are many men of
science who, like Darwin, have come, through the study of material
phenomena in nature, to a condition of mind which is indifferent in
matters of religion. But the remarkable feature in the case of Omar is
that he, who could see so clearly and feel so acutely, has been enabled
also to embody in a poem of imperishable beauty the opinions which he
shared with many of his contemporaries. The range of his mind can only
be measured by supposing that Sir Isaac Newton had written Manfred or
Childe Harold. But even more remarkable is what we may call the
modernity of this twelfth century Persian poet. We sometimes hear it
said that great periods of civilization end in a manifestation of
infidelity and despair. There can be no doubt that a great deal of
restlessness and misgiving characterizes the minds of to-day in regard
to all questions of religion. Europe, in the nineteenth century,
as reflected in the works of Byron, Spencer, Darwin, and Schopenhauer,
is very much in the same condition as intellectual Persia in the twelfth
century, so far as the pessimism of Omar is representative of his day.
This accounts for the wide popularity of Fitzgerald's "Rubaiyat." The
book has been read eagerly and fondly studied, as if it were a new book
of _fin du siecle_ production: the last efflorescence of intellectual
satiety, cynicism, and despair. Yet the book is eight centuries old, and
it has been the task of this seer of the East to reveal to the West the
heart-sickness under which the nations were suffering.
Omar Khayyam--that is, Omar the tent-maker--was born in the year 1050 at
Nishapur, the little Damascus (as it is called) of Persia: famous as a
seat of learning, as a place of religion, and a centre of commerce. In
the days of Omar it was by far the most important city of Khorasan. The
poet, like his father before him, held a court office under the Vizir of
his day. It was from the stipend which he thus enjoyed that he secured
leisure for mathematical and literary work. His father had been a
khayyam, or tent-maker, and his gifted son doubtless inherited the
handicraft as well as the name; but his position at Court released him
from the drudgery of manual labor. He was thus also brought in contact
with the luxurious side of life, and became acquainted with those scenes
of pleasure which he recalls only to add poignancy to the sorrow with
which he contemplates the yesterday of life. Omar's astronomical
researches were continued for many years, and his algebra has been
translated into French: but his greatest claim to renown is based upon
his immortal Quatrains, which will always live as the best expression of
a phase of mind constantly recurring in the history of civilization,
from the days of Anaxagoras to those of Darwin and Spencer.
By John Hay
_Address delivered December 8, 1897, at the Dinner of the Omar Khayyam
I can never forget my emotions when I first saw Fitzgerald's
translations of the Quatrains. Keats, in his sublime ode on Chapman's
Homer, has described the sensation once for all:
"Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken."
The exquisite beauty, the faultless form, the singular grace of those
amazing stanzas were not more wonderful than the depth and breadth of
their profound philosophy, their knowledge of life, their dauntless
courage, their serene facing of the ultimate problems of life and death.
Of course the doubt did not spare me, which has assailed many as
ignorant as I was of the literature of the East, whether it was the poet
or the translator to whom was due this splendid result. Was it, in fact,
a reproduction of an antique song, or a mystification of a great modern,
careless of fame and scornful of his time? Could it be possible that in
the eleventh century, so far away as Khorasan, so accomplished a man of
letters lived, with such distinction, such breadth, such insight, such
calm disillusions, such cheerful and jocund despair? Was this
"Weltschmerz," which we thought a malady of our day, endemic in Persia
in 1100? My doubt only lasted until I came upon a literal translation of
the Rubaiyat, and I saw that not the least remarkable quality of
Fitzgerald's poem was its fidelity to the original.
In short, Omar was a Fitzgerald, or Fitzgerald was a reincarnation of
Omar. It was not to the disadvantage of the latter poet that he followed
so closely in the footsteps of the earlier. A man of extraordinary
genius had appeared in the world, had sung a song of incomparable beauty
and power in an environment no longer worthy of him, in a language of
narrow range; for many generations the song was virtually lost; then by
a miracle of creation, a poet, a twin-brother in the spirit to the
first, was born, who took up the forgotten poem and sang it anew with
all its original melody and force, and all the accumulated refinement of
ages of art. It seems to me idle to ask which was the greater master;
each seems greater than his work. The song is like an instrument of
precious workmanship and marvellous tone, which is worthless in common
hands, but when it falls, at long intervals, into the hands of the
supreme master, it yields a melody of transcendent enchantment to all
that have ears to hear. If we look at the sphere of influence of the
poets, there is no longer any comparison. Omar sang to a half-barbarous
province: Fitzgerald to the world. Wherever the English speech is spoken
or read, the "Rubaiyat" have taken their place as a classic. There is
not a hill post in India, nor a village in England, where there is not a
coterie to whom Omar Khayyam is a familiar friend and a bond of union.
In America he has an equal following, in many regions and conditions. In
the Eastern States his adepts form an esoteric sect; the beautiful
volume of drawings by Mr. Vedder is a centre of delight and suggestion
wherever it exists. In the cities of the West you will find the
Quatrains one of the most thoroughly read books in any club library. I
heard them quoted once in one of the most lonely and desolate spots in
the high Rockies. We had been camping on the Great Divide, our "roof of
the world," where in the space of a few feet you may see two springs,
one sending its waters to the Polar solitudes, the other to the eternal
Carib summer. One morning at sunrise, as we were breaking camp, I was
startled to hear one of our party, a frontiersman born, intoning these
words of sombre majesty:--
"Tis but a Tent where takes his one day's rest
A Sultan to the realm of Death addrest;
The Sultan rises, and the dark Ferrash
Strikes, and prepares it for another Guest."
I thought that sublime setting of primeval forest and pouring canyon was
worthy of the lines; I am sure the dewless, crystalline air never
vibrated to strains of more solemn music. Certainly, our poet can never
be numbered among the great writers of all time. He has told no story;
he has never unpacked his heart in public; he has never thrown the reins
on the neck of the winged horse, and let his imagination carry him where
it listed. "Ah! the crowd must have emphatic warrant," as Browning sang.
Its suffrages are not for the cool, collected observer, whose eyes no
glitter can dazzle, no mist suffuse. The many cannot but resent that air
of lofty intelligence, that pale and subtle smile. But he will hold a
place forever among that limited number, who, like Lucretius and
Epicurus--without range or defiance, even without unbecoming mirth, look
deep into the tangled mysteries of things; refuse credence to the
absurd, and allegiance to arrogant authority; sufficiently conscious of
fallibility to be tolerant of all opinions; with a faith too wide for
doctrine and a benevolence untrammelled by creed; too wise to be wholly
poets, and yet too surely poets to be implacably wise.
Wake! For the Sun, who scatter'd into flight
The Stars before him from the Field of Night,
Drives Night along with them from Heav'n, and strikes
The Sultan's Turret with a Shaft of Light.
Before the phantom of False morning died,
Methought a Voice within the Tavern cried,
"When all the Temple is prepared within,
Why nods the drowsy Worshipper outside?"
And, as the Cock crew, those who stood before
The Tavern shouted--"Open then the Door!
You know how little while we have to stay,
And, once departed, may return no more."
Now the New Year reviving old Desires,
The thoughtful Soul to Solitude retires,
Where the White Hand of Moses on the Bough
Puts out, and Jesus from the Ground suspires.
Iram indeed is gone with all his Rose,
And Jemshid's Sev'n-ring'd Cup where no one knows;
But still a Ruby kindles in the Vine,
And many a Garden by the Water blows.
And David's lips are lockt; but in divine
High-piping Pehlevi, with "Wine! Wine! Wine!
Red Wine!"--the Nightingale cries to the Rose
That sallow cheek of hers to incarnadine.
Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring
Your Winter-garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To flutter--and the Bird is on the Wing.
Whether at Nishapur or Babylon,
Whether the Cup with sweet or bitter run,
The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop,
The Leaves of Life keep falling one by one.
Each Morn a thousand Roses brings, you say;
Yes, but where leaves the Rose of Yesterday?
And this first Summer month that brings the Rose
Shall take Jemshid and Kai-kobad away.
Well, let it take them! What have we to do
With Kai-kobad the Great, or Kai-khosrau?
Let Zal and Rustem bluster as they will,
Or Hatim call to Supper--heed not you.
With me along the strip of Herbage strewn
That just divides the desert from the sown,
Where name of Slave and Sultan is forgot--
And Peace to Mahmud on his golden Throne!
A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread--and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness--
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!
Some for the Glories of This World; and some
Sigh for the Prophet's Paradise to come;
Ah, take the Cash, and let the Credit go,
Nor heed the rumble of a distant Drum!
Look to the blowing Rose about us--"Lo,
Laughing," she says, "into the world I blow,
At once the silken tassel of my Purse
Tear, and its Treasure on the Garden throw."
And those who husbanded the Golden grain,
And those who flung it to the winds like Rain,
Alike to no such aureate Earth are turn'd
As, buried once, Men want dug up again.
The Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon
Turns Ashes--or it prospers; and anon,
Like Snow upon the Desert's dusty Face,
Lighting a little hour or two--is gone.
Think, in this batter'd Caravanserai
Whose Portals are alternate Night and Day,
How Sultan after Sultan with his Pomp
Abode his destined Hour, and went his way.
They say the Lion and the Lizard keep
The Courts where Jemshid gloried and drank deep:
And Bahram, that great Hunter--the Wild Ass
Stamps o'er his Head, but cannot break his Sleep.
I sometimes think that never blows so red
The Rose as where some buried Caesar bled;
That every Hyacinth the Garden wears
Dropt in her Lap from some once lovely Head.
And this reviving Herb whose tender Green
Fledges the River-Lip on which we lean--
Ah, lean upon it lightly! for who knows
From what once lovely Lip it springs unseen!
Ah, my Beloved, fill the Cup that clears
To-day of past Regrets and future Fears:
_To-morrow!_--Why, To-morrow I may be
Myself with Yesterday's Sev'n thousand Years.
For some we loved, the loveliest and the best
That from his Vintage rolling Time hath prest,
Have drunk their Cup a Round or two before,
And one by one crept silently to rest.
And we, that now make merry in the Room
They left, and Summer dresses in new bloom,
Ourselves must we beneath the Couch of Earth
Descend--ourselves to make a Couch--for whom?
Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
Dust into Dust, and under Dust to lie,
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and--sans End!
Alike for those who for TO-DAY prepare,
And those that after some TO-MORROW stare,
A Muezzin from the Tower of Darkness cries,
"Fools! your Reward is neither Here nor There."
Why, all the Saints and Sages who discuss'd
Of the Two Worlds so wisely--they are thrust
Like foolish Prophets forth; their Words to Scorn
Are scattered, and their Mouths are stopt with Dust.
Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same door where in I went.
With them the seed of Wisdom did I sow,
And with mine own hand wrought to make it grow;
And this was all the Harvest that I reap'd--
"I came like Water, and like Wind I go."
Into this Universe, and _Why_ not knowing
Nor _Whence_, like Water willy-nilly flowing;
And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
I know not _Whither_, willy-nilly blowing.
What, without asking, hither hurried _Whence_?
And, without asking, _Whither_ hurried hence!
Oh, many a Cup of this forbidden Wine
Must drown the memory of that insolence!
Up from Earth's Centre through the Seventh Gate
I rose, and on the Throne of Saturn sate,
And many a Knot unravel'd by the Road;
But not the Master-knot of Human Fate.
There was the Door to which I found no Key;
There was the Veil through which I might not see:
Some little talk awhile of ME and THEE
There was--and then no more of THEE and ME.
Earth could not answer; nor the Seas that mourn
In flowing Purple, of their Lord forlorn;
Nor rolling Heaven, with all his Signs reveal'd
And hidden by the sleeve of Night and Morn.
Then of the THEE IN ME who works behind
The Veil, I lifted up my hands to find
A lamp amid the Darkness; and I heard,
As from Without--"THE ME WITHIN THEE BLIND!"
Then to the Lip of this poor earthen Urn
I lean'd, the Secret of my Life to learn:
And Lip to Lip it murmur'd--"While you live,
Drink!--for, once dead, you never shall return."
I think the Vessel, that with fugitive
Articulation answer'd, once did live,
And drink; and Ah! the passive Lip I kiss'd,
How many Kisses might it take--and give!
For I remember stopping by the way
To watch a Potter thumping his wet Clay:
And with its all-obliterated Tongue
It murmur'd--"Gently, Brother, gently, pray!"
And has not such a story from of Old
Down Man's successive generations roll'd
Of such a clod of saturated Earth
Cast by the Maker into Human mould?
And not a drop that from our Cups we throw
For Earth to drink of, but may steal below
To quench the fire of Anguish in some Eye
There hidden--far beneath, and long ago.
As then the Tulip for her morning sup
Of Heav'nly Vintage from the soil looks up,
Do you devoutly do the like, till Heav'n
To Earth invert you--like an empty Cup.
Perplext no more with Human or Divine,
To-morrow's tangle to the winds resign,
And lose your fingers in the tresses of
The Cypress-slender Minister of Wine.
And if the Wine you drink, the Lip you press,
End in what All begins and ends in--Yes;
Think then you are To-day what Yesterday
You were--To-morrow you shall not be less.
So when that Angel of the darker Drink
At last shall find you by the river-brink,
And, offering his Cup, invite your Soul
Forth to your Lips to quaff--you shall not shrink.
Why, if the Soul can fling the Dust aside,
And naked on the Air of Heaven ride,
Were't not a Shame--were't not a Shame for him
In this clay carcase crippled to abide?
'Tis but a Tent where takes his one day's rest
A Sultan to the realm of Death addrest;
The Sultan rises, and the dark Ferrash
Strikes, and prepares it for another Guest
And fear not lest Existence closing your
Account, and mine, should know the like no more;
The Eternal Saki from the Bowl has pour'd
Millions of Bubbles like us, and will pour.
When You and I behind the Veil are past,
Oh, but the long, long while the World shall last,
Which of our Coming and Departure heeds
As the Sea's self should heed a pebble-cast.
A Moment's Halt--a momentary taste
Of Being from the Well amid the Waste--
And Lo!--the phantom Caravan has reach'd
The Nothing it set out from--Oh, make haste!
Would you that spangle of Existence spend
About THE SECRET--quick about it, Friend!
A Hair perhaps divides the False and True--
And upon what, prithee, may life depend?
A Hair perhaps divides the False and True;
Yes; and a single Alif were the clue--
Could you but find it--to the Treasure-house,
And peradventure to THE MASTER too;
Whose secret Presence, through Creation's veins
Running Quicksilver-like eludes your pains;
Taking all shapes from Mah to Mahi; and
They change and perish all--but He remains;
A moment guess'd--then back behind the Fold
Immerst of Darkness round the Drama roll'd
Which, for the Pastime of Eternity,
He doth Himself contrive, enact, behold.
But if in vain, down on the stubborn floor
Of Earth, and up to Heav'n's unopening Door,
You gaze To-day, while You are You--how then
To-morrow, when You shall be You no more?
Waste not your Hour, nor in the vain pursuit
Of This and That endeavor and dispute;
Better be jocund with the fruitful Grape
Than sadden after none, or bitter, Fruit.
You know, my Friends, with what a brave Carouse
I made a Second Marriage in my house;
Divorced old barren Reason from my Bed,
And took the Daughter of the Vine to Spouse.
For "Is" and "Is-not" though with Rule and Line
And "Up-and-down" by Logic I define,
Of all that one should care to fathom, I
Was never deep in anything but--Wine.
Ah, but my Computations, People say,
Reduced the Year to better reckoning?--Nay,
'Twas only striking from the Calendar
Unborn To-morrow, and dead Yesterday.
And lately, by the Tavern Door agape,
Came shining through the Dusk an Angel Shape
Bearing a Vessel on his Shoulder; and
He bid me taste of it; and 'twas--the Grape!
The Grape that can with Logic absolute
The Two-and-Seventy jarring Sects confute:
The Sovereign Alchemist that in a trice
Life's leaden metal into Gold transmute:
The mighty Mahmud, Allah-breathing Lord,
That all the misbelieving and black Horde
Of Fears and Sorrows that infest the Soul
Scatters before him with his whirlwind Sword.
Why, be this Juice the growth of God, who dare
Blaspheme the twisted tendril as a Snare?
A Blessing, we should use it, should we not?
And if a Curse--why, then, Who set it there?
I must abjure the Balm of Life, I must,
Scared by some After-reckoning ta'en on trust,
Or lured with Hope of some Diviner Drink,
To fill the Cup--when crumbled into Dust!
Oh threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!
One thing at least is certain--This Life flies;
One thing is certain and the rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown forever dies.
Strange, is it not? that of the myriads who
Before us pass'd the door of Darkness through,
Not one returns to tell us of the Road,
Which to discover we must travel too.
The Revelations of Devout and Learn'd
Who rose before us, and as Prophets burn'd,
Are all but Stories, which, awoke from Sleep
They told their comrades, and to Sleep return'd.
I sent my Soul through the Invisible,
Some letter of that After-life to spell:
And by and by my Soul return'd to me,
And answered, "I Myself am Heav'n and Hell:"
Heav'n but the Vision of fulfill'd Desire,
And Hell the Shadow from a Soul on fire,
Cast on the Darkness into which Ourselves,
So late emerged from, shall so soon expire.
We are no other than a moving row
Of Magic Shadow-shapes that come and go
Round with the Sun-illumined Lantern held
In Midnight by the Master of the Show;
But helpless Pieces of the Game He plays
Upon this Checker-board of Nights and Days;
Hither and thither moves, and checks, and slays,
And one by one back in the Closet lays.
The Ball no question makes of Ayes and Noes,
But Here or There as strikes the Player goes;
And He that toss'd you down into the Field,
_He_ knows about it all--HE knows--HE knows!
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.
And that inverted Bowl they call the Sky,
Whereunder crawling coop'd we live and die,
Lift not your hands to _It_ for help--for It
As impotently moves as you or I.
With Earth's first Clay They did the Last Man knead,
And there of the Last Harvest sow'd the Seed:
And the first Morning of Creation wrote
What the Last Dawn of Reckoning shall read.
Yesterday This Day's Madness did prepare;
To-morrow's Silence, Triumph, or Despair:
Drink! for you know not whence you came, nor why:
Drink! for you know not why you go, nor where.
I tell you this--When, started from the Goal,
Over the flaming shoulders of the Foal
Of Heav'n Parwin and Mushtari they flung,
In my predestined Plot of Dust and Soul
The Vine had struck a fibre: which about
If clings my Being--let the Dervish flout;
Of my Base metal may be filed a Key,
That shall unlock the Door he howls without.
And this I know: whether the one True Light
Kindle to Love, or Wrath-consume me quite,
One Flash of It within the Tavern caught
Better than in the Temple lost outright.
What! out of senseless Nothing to provoke
A conscious Something to resent the yoke
Of unpermitted Pleasure, under pain
Of Everlasting Penalties, if broke!
What! from his helpless Creature be repaid
Pure Gold for what he lent him dross-allay'd--
Sue for a Debt he never did contract,
And cannot answer--Oh the sorry trade!
Oh Thou, who didst with pitfall and with gin
Beset the Road I was to wander in,
Thou wilt not with Predestined Evil round
Enmesh, and then impute my Fall to Sin!
O Thou, who Man of baser Earth didst make,
And ev'n with Paradise devise the Snake:
For all the Sin wherewith the Face of Man
Is blacken'd--Man's forgiveness give--and take!
As under cover of departing Day
Slunk hunger-stricken Ramazan away,
Once more within the Potter's house alone
I stood, surrounded by the Shapes of Clay.
Shapes of all Sorts and Sizes, great and small,
That stood along the floor and by the wall;
And some loquacious Vessels were; and some
Listen'd perhaps, but never talk'd at all.
Said one among them--"Surely not in vain
My substance of the common Earth was ta'en
And to this Figure moulded, to be broke,
Or trampled back to shapeless Earth again."
Then said a Second--"Ne'er a peevish Boy
Would break the Bowl from which he drank in joy;
And He that with his hand the Vessel made
Will surely not in after Wrath destroy."
After a momentary silence spake
Some Vessel of a more ungainly Make;
"They sneer at me for leaning all awry:
What! did the Hand then of the Potter shake?"
Whereat some one of the loquacious Lot--
I think a Sufi pipkin--waxing hot--
"All this of Pot and Potter--Tell me, then,
Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?"
"Why," said another, "some there are who tell
Of one who threatens he will toss to Hell
The luckless Pots he marr'd in making--Pish!
He's a Good Fellow, and 't will all be well."
"Well," murmur'd one, "let whoso make or buy,
My Clay with long Oblivion is gone dry:
But fill me with the old familiar Juice,
Methinks I might recover by and by."
So while the Vessels one by one were speaking,
The little Moon look'd in that all were seeking:
And then they jogg'd each other, "Brother! Brother!
Now for the Potter's shoulder-knot a-creaking!"
Ah, with the Grape my fading Life provide,
And wash the Body whence the Life has died,
And lay me, shrouded in the living Leaf,
By some not unfrequented Garden-side.
That ev'n my buried Ashes such a snare
Of Vintage shall fling up into the Air
As not a True-believer passing by
But shall be overtaken unaware.
Indeed the Idols I have loved so long
Have done my credit in this World much wrong:
Have drown'd my Glory in a shallow Cup,
And sold my Reputation for a Song.
Indeed, indeed, Repentance oft before
I swore--but was I sober when I swore?
And then and then came Spring, and Rose-in-hand
My threadbare Penitence apieces tore.
And much as Wine has play'd the Infidel,
And robb'd me of my Robe of Honor--Well,
I wonder often what the Vintners buy
One half so precious as the stuff they sell.
Yet ah, that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
That Youth's sweet-scented manuscript should close!
The Nightingale that in the branches sang,
Ah whence, and whither flown again, who knows!
Would but the Desert of the Fountain yield
One glimpse--if dimly, yet indeed, reveal'd,
To which the fainting Traveller might spring,
As springs the trampled herbage of the field!
Would but some winged Angel ere too late
Arrest the yet unfolded Roll of Fate,
And make the stern Recorder otherwise
Enregister, or quite obliterate!
Ah, Love! could you and I with Him conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits--and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's Desire!
Yon rising Moon that looks for us again--
How oft hereafter will she wax and wane;
How oft hereafter rising look for us
Through this same Garden--and for _one_ in vain!
And when like her, oh Saki, you shall pass
Among the Guests Star-scatter'd on the Grass,
And in your joyous errand reach the spot
Where I made One--turn down an empty Glass!
[_Translation by H. Bicknell_]
The reader will be struck with the apparent want of unity in many of the
Odes. The Orientals compare each couplet to a single pearl and the
entire "Ghazal," or Ode, to a string of pearls. It is the rhyme, not
necessarily the sense, which links them together. Hence the single
pearls or couplets may often be arranged in various orders without
injury to the general effect; and it would probably be impossible to
find two manuscripts either containing the same number of Odes, or
having the same couplets following each other in the same order.
We are told in the Persian histories that when Tamerlane, on his
victorious progress through the East, had reached Shiraz, he halted
before the gates of the city and sent two of his followers to search in
the bazar for a certain dervish Muhammad Shams-ad-din, better known to
the world by the name of Hafiz. And when this man of religion, wearing
the simple woollen garment of a Sufi, was brought into the presence of
the great conqueror, he was nothing abashed at the blaze of silks and
jewelry which decorated the pavilion where Tamerlane sat in state. And
Tamerlane, meeting the poet with a frown of anger, said, "Art not thou
the insolent verse-monger who didst offer my two great cities Samarkand
and Bokhara for the black mole upon thy lady's cheek?" "It is true,"
replied Hafiz calmly, smiling, "and indeed my munificence has been so
great throughout my life, that it has left me destitute, so that I shall
be hereafter dependent upon thy generosity for a livelihood." The reply
of the poet, as well as his imperturbable self-possession, pleased the
Asiatic Alexander, and he dismissed Hafiz with a liberal present.
This story, we are told, cannot be true, for Tamerlane did not reach
Shiraz until after the death of the greatest of Persian lyric poets; but
if it is not true in fact, it is true in spirit, and gives the real key
to the character of Hafiz. For we must look upon Hafiz as one of the few
poets in the world who utters an unbroken strain of joy and contentment.
His poverty was to him a constant fountain of satisfaction, and he
frankly took the natural joys of life as they came, supported under
every vicissitude by his religious sense of the goodness and kindliness
of the One God, manifested in everything in the world that was sweet and
genial, and beautiful to behold. It is strange that we have to go to the
literature of Persia to find a poet whose deep religious convictions
were fully reconciled with the theory of human existence which was
nothing more or less than an optimistic hedonism. There is nothing
parallel to this in classic literature. The greatest of Roman
Epicureans, the materialist, whose maxim was: enjoy the present for
there is no God, and no to-morrow, speaks despairingly of that drop of
bitterness, which rises in the fountain of Delight and brings torture,
even amid the roses of the feast. It is with mocking irony that Dante
places Epicurus in the furnace-tombs of his Inferno amid those
heresiarchs who denied the immortality of the soul. Hafiz was an
Epicurean without the atheism or the despair of Epicurus. The roses in
his feast are ever fresh and sweet and there is nothing of bitterness in
the perennial fountain of his Delight. This unruffled serenity, this
joyful acceptance of material existence and its pleasures are not in the
Persian poet the result of the carelessness and shallowness of Horace,
or the cold-blooded worldliness and sensuality of Martial. The theory of
life which Hafiz entertained was founded upon the relation of the human
soul to God. The one God of Sufism was a being of exuberant benignity,
from whose creative essence proceeded the human soul, whose experiences
on earth were intended to fit it for re-entrance into the circle of
light and re-absorption into the primeval fountain of being. In
accordance with the beautiful and pathetic imagery of the Mystic, life
was merely a journey of many stages, and every manifestation of life
which the traveller met on the high road was a manifestation and a gift
of God Himself. Every stage on the journey towards God which the soul
made in its religious experience was like a wayside inn in which to rest
awhile before resuming the onward course. The pleasures of life, all
that charmed the eye, all that gratified the senses, every draught that
intoxicated, and every fruit that pleased the palate, were, in the
pantheistic doctrine of the Sufi considered as equally good, because God
was in each of them, and to partake of them was therefore to be united
more closely with God. Never was a theology so well calculated to put to
rest the stings of doubt or the misgivings of the pleasure-seeker. This
theology is of the very essence of Hafiz's poetry. It is in full
reliance on this interpretation of the significance of human existence
that Hafiz faces the fierce Tamerlane with a placid smile, plunges
without a qualm into the deepest abysses of pleasure, finds in the
love-song of the nightingale the voice of God, and in the bright eyes of
women and the beaker brimming with crimson wine the choicest sacraments
of life, the holiest and the most sublime intermediaries between divine
and human life.
It is this that makes Hafiz almost the only poet of unadulterated
gladsomeness that the world has ever known. There is no shadow in his
sky, no discord in his music, no bitterness in his cup. He passes
through life like a happy pilgrim, singing all the way, mounting in his
own way from strength to strength, sure of a welcome when he reaches the
goal, contented with himself, because every manifestation of life of
which he is conscious must be the stirrings within him of that divinity
of which he is a portion. When we have thus spoken of Hafiz we have said
almost all that is known of the Persian lyric poet, for to know Hafiz we
must read his verses, whose magic charm is as great for Europeans as for
Asiatics. The endless variety of his expressions, the deep earnestness
of his convictions, the persistent gayety of his tone, are qualities of
irresistible attractiveness. Even to this day his tomb is visited as the
Mecca of literary pilgrims, and his numbers are cherished in the memory
and uttered on the tongue of all educated Persians. The particulars of
his life may be briefly epitomized as follows: He was born at Shiraz in
the early part of the fourteenth century, dying in the year 1388. The
name Hafiz means, literally, the man who remembers, and was applied to
himself by Hafiz from the fact that he became a professor of the
Mohammedan scriptures, and for this purpose had committed to memory the
text of the Koran. His manner of life was not approved of by the
dervishes of the monastic college in which he taught, and he satirizes
his colleagues in revenge for their animadversions. The whole Mohammedan
world hailed with delight the lyrics which Hafiz published to the world,
and kings and rulers vied with each other in making offers to him of
honors and hospitality. At one time he started for India on the
invitation of a great Southern Prince, who sent a vessel to meet him on
the way, but the hardships of the sea were too severe for him, and he
made his way back to Shiraz without finishing his journey.
His out-and-out pantheism, as well as his manner of life, caused him at
his death to be denied burial in consecrated ground. The ecclesiastical
authorities were, however, induced to relent in their plan of
excommunication at the dictates of a passage from the poet's writings,
which was come upon by opening the book at random. The passage ran as
follows: "Turn not thy feet from the bier of Hafiz, for though immersed
in sin, he will be admitted into Paradise." And so he rests in the
cemetery at Shiraz, where the nightingales are singing and the roses
bloom the year through, and the doves gather with low murmurs amid the
white stones of the sacred enclosure. The poets of nature, the mystical
pantheist, the joyous troubadour of life, Hafiz, in the naturalness and
spontaneity of his poetry, and in the winning sweetness of his imagery,
occupies a unique place in the literature of the world, and has no rival
in his special domain.
FRAGMENT BY HAFIZ
_In Praise of His Verses_.
The beauty of these verses baffles praise:
What guide is needed to the solar blaze?
Extol that artist by whose pencil's aid
The virgin, Thought, so richly is arrayed.
For her no substitute can reason show,
Nor any like her human judgment know.
This verse, a miracle, or magic white--
Brought down some voice from Heaven, or Gabriel bright?
By me as by none else are secrets sung,
No pearls of poesy like mine are strung.
"Ala ya ayyuha's-Saki!"--pass round and offer thou the bowl,
For love, which seemed at first so easy, has now brought trouble to my
With yearning for the pod's aroma, which by the East that lock shall
From that crisp curl of musky odor, how plenteously our hearts have
Stain with the tinge of wine thy prayer-mat, if thus the aged Magian
For from the traveller from the Pathway no stage nor usage can be
Shall my beloved one's house delight me, when issues ever and anon
From the relentless bell the mandate: "'Tis time to bind thy litters
The waves are wild, the whirlpool dreadful, the shadow of the night
How can my fate excite compassion in the light-burdened of the shore?
Each action of my froward spirit has won me an opprobrious name;
Can any one conceal the secret which the assembled crowds proclaim?
If Joy be thy desire, O Hafiz,
From Him far distant never dwell.
"As soon as thou hast found thy Loved one,
Bid to the world a last farewell."
Thou whose features clearly-beaming make the moon of Beauty bright,
Thou whose chin contains a well-pit which to Loveliness gives light.
When, O Lord! shall kindly Fortune, sating my ambition, pair
This my heart of tranquil nature and thy wild and ruffled hair?
Pining for thy sight my spirit trembling on my lip doth wait:
Forth to speed it, back to lead it, speak the sentence of its fate.
Pass me with thy skirt uplifted from the dusty bloody ground:
Many who have been thy victims dead upon this path are found.
How this heart is anguish-wasted let my heart's possessor know:
Friends, your souls and mine contemplate, equal by their common woe.
Aught of good accrues to no one witched by thy Narcissus eye:
Ne'er let braggarts vaunt their virtue, if thy drunken orbs are nigh.
Soon my Fortune sunk in slumber shall her limbs with vigor brace:
Dashed upon her eye is water, sprinkled by thy shining face.
Gather from thy cheek a posy, speed it by the flying East;
Sent be perfume to refresh me from thy garden's dust at least.
Hafiz offers a petition, listen, and "Amen" reply:
"On thy sugar-dropping rubies let me for life's food rely."
Many a year live on and prosper, Sakis of the court of Jem,
E'en though I, to fill my wine-cup, never to your circle come.
East wind, when to Yazd thou wingest, say thou to its sons from me:
"May the head of every ingrate ball-like 'neath your mall-bat be!"
"What though from your dais distant, near it by my wish I seem;
Homage to your Ring I render, and I make your praise my theme."
Shah of Shahs, of lofty planet, Grant for God what I implore;
Let me, as the sky above thee, Kiss the dust which strews thy floor.
Up, Saki!--let the goblet flow;
Strew with dust the head of our earthly woe!
Give me thy cup; that, joy-possessed,
I may tear this azure cowl from my breast,
The wise may deem me lost to shame,
But no care have I for renown or name.
Bring wine!--how many a witless head
By the wind of pride has with dust been spread!
My bosom's fumes, my sighs so warm,
Have inflamed yon crude and unfeeling swarm.
This mad heart's secret, well I know,
Is beyond the thoughts of both high and low.
E'en by that sweetheart charmed am I,
Who once from my heart made sweetness fly.
Who that my Silvern Tree hath seen,
Would regard the cypress that decks the green?
In grief be patient,
Night and day,
Till thy fortune, Hafiz,
Thy wish obey.
My heart no longer brooks my hand: sages, aid for God my woe!
Else, alas! my secret-deep soon the curious world must know.
The bark we steer has stranded: O breeze auspicious swell:
We yet may see once more the Friend we love so well.
The ten days' favor of the Sphere--magic is; a tale which lies!
Thou who wouldst befriend thy friends, seize each moment ere it flies.
At night, 'mid wine and flowers, the bulbul tuned his song:
"Bring thou the morning bowl: prepare, ye drunken throng!"
Sikander's mirror, once so famed, is the wine-filled cup: behold
All that haps in Dara's realm glassed within its wondrous mould.
O bounteous man, since Heaven sheds o'er thee blessings mild,
Inquire, one day at least, how fares Misfortune's child.
What holds in peace this twofold world, let this twofold sentence show:
"Amity to every friend, courtesy to every foe."
Upon the way of honor, impeded was my range;
If this affect thee, strive my destiny to change.
That bitter, which the Sufi styled "Mother of all woes that be,"
Seems, with maiden's kisses weighed, better and more sweet to me.
Seek drunkenness and pleasure till times of strait be o'er:
This alchemy of life can make the beggar Kore.
Submit; or burn thou taper-like e'en from jealousy o'er-much:
Adamant no less than wax, melts beneath that charmer's touch.
When fair ones talk in Persian, the streams of life out-well:
This news to pious Pirs, my Saki, haste to tell.
Since Hafiz, not by his own choice,
This his wine-stained cowl did win,
Shaikh, who hast unsullied robes,
Hold me innocent of sin.
Arrayed in youthful splendor, the orchard smiles again;
News of the rose enraptures the bulbul of sweet strain.
Breeze, o'er the meadow's children, when thy fresh fragrance blows,
Salute for me the cypress, the basil, and the rose.
If the young Magian dally with grace so coy and fine,
My eye shall bend their fringes to sweep the house of wine.
O thou whose bat of amber hangs o'er a moon below,
Deal not to me so giddy, the anguish of a blow.
I fear that tribe of mockers who topers' ways impeach,
Will part with their religion the tavern's goal to reach.
To men of God be friendly: in Noah's ark was earth
Which deemed not all the deluge one drop of water worth.
As earth, two handfuls yielding, shall thy last couch supply,
What need to build thy palace, aspiring to the sky?
Flee from the house of Heaven, and ask not for her bread:
Her goblet black shall shortly her every guest strike dead.
To thee, my Moon of Kanaan, the Egyptian throne pertains;
At length has come the moment that thou shouldst quit thy chains.
I know not what dark projects those pointed locks design,
That once again in tangles their musky curls combine.
Be gay, drink wine, and revel;
But not, like others, care,
O Hafiz, from the Koran
To weave a wily snare!
Oh! where are deeds of virtue and this frail spirit where?
How wide the space that sunders the bounds of Here and There!
Can toping aught in common with works and worship own?
Where is regard for sermons, where is the rebeck's Tone?
My heart abhors the cloister, and the false cowl its sign:
Where is the Magian's cloister, and where is his pure wine?
'Tis fled: may memory sweetly mind me of Union's days!
Where is that voice of anger, where those coquettish ways?
Can a foe's heart be kindled by the friend's face so bright?
Where is a lamp unlighted, and the clear Day-star's light?
As dust upon thy threshold supplies my eyes with balm,
If I forsake thy presence, where can I hope for calm?
Turn from that chin's fair apple; a pit is on the way.
To what, O heart, aspir'st thou? Whither thus quickly? Say!
Seek not, O friend, in Hafiz
Patience, nor rest from care:
Patience and rest--what are they?
Where is calm slumber, where?
At eve a son of song--his heart be cheerful long!--
Piped on his vocal reed a soul-inflaming lay.
So deeply was I stirred, that melody once heard,
That to my tearful eyes the things of earth grew gray.
With me my Saki was, and momently did he
At night the sun of Dai by lock and cheek display.
When he perceived my wish, he filled with wine the bowl;
Then said I to that youth whose track was Fortune's way:
"Saki, from Being's prison deliverance did I gain,
When now and now the cup thou lit'st with cheerful ray.
"God guard thee here below from all the haps of woe;
God in the Seat of Bliss reward thee on His day!"
When Hafiz rapt has grown,
How, at one barleycorn,
Should he appraise the realm,
E'en of Kaus the Kay?
I said: "O Monarch of the lovely, a stranger seeks thy grace this day."
I heard: "The heart's deceitful guidance inclines the stranger from
Exclaimed I then: "One moment tarry!" "Nay," was the answer, "let me go;
How can the home-bred child be troubled by stories of a stranger's
Shall one who, gently nurtured, slumbers with royal ermine for a bed,
"Care if on rocks or thorns reposing the stranger rests his weary head?"
O thou whose locks hold fast on fetters so many a soul known long ago,
How strange that musky mole and charming upon thy cheek of vermil glow!
Strange is that ant-like down's appearance circling the oval of thy
Yet musky shade is not a stranger within the Hall which paintings
A crimson tint, from wine reflected gleams in that face of moonlight
E'en as the bloom of syrtis, strangely, o'er clusters of the pale
I said: "O thou, whose lock so night-black is evening in the
Be heedful if, at break of morning, the stranger sorrow for his
"Hafiz," the answer was, "familiars
Stand in amaze at my renown;
It is no marvel if a stranger
In weariness and grief sit down."
'Tis morn; the clouds a ceiling make:
The morn-cup, mates, the morn-cup take!
Drops of dew streak the tulip's cheek;
The wine-bowl, friends, the wine-bowl seek
The greensward breathes a gale divine;
Drink, therefore, always limpid wine.
The Flower her emerald throne displays:
Bring wine that has the ruby's blaze
Again is closed the vintner's store,
"Open, Thou Opener of the door!"
While smiles on us the season's boon,
I marvel that they close so soon.
Thy lips have salt-rights, 'tis confessed,
O'er wounds upon the fire-burnt breast.
Hafiz, let not
Thy courage fail!
Fortune, thy charmer
Lo! from thy love's enchanting bowers Rizvan's bright gardens fresher
From the fierce heat thine absence kindles, Gehenna's flames intenser
To thy tall form and cheek resplendent, as to a place of refuge, fleet
Heaven and the Tuba-tree, and find there--"Happiness--and a fair
When nightly the celestial river glides through the garden of the skies,
As my own eye, it sees in slumber, nought but thy drunk narcissus eyes.
Each section of the spring-tide's volume makes a fresh comment on thy
Each portal of the Empyrean murmurs the title of thy fame.
My heart has burned, but to ambition, the aim, still wished for, is
These tears that tinged with blood are flowing, if I could reach it,
would be dried.
What ample power thy salt-rights give thee (which both thy mouth and
lips can claim),
Over a breast by sorrow wounded, and a heart burnt within its flame!
Oh! think not that the amorous only are drunk with rapture at thy sway:
Hast thou not heard of zealots, also, as reckless and as wrecked as
By thy lips' reign I hold it proven that the bright ruby's sheen is won
By the resplendent light that flashes out of a world-illuming sun.
Fling back thy veil! how long, oh tell me! shall drapery thy beauty
This drapery, no profit bringing, can only for thy shame avail.
A fire within the rose's bosom was kindled when she saw thy face;
And soon as she inhaled thy fragrance, she grew all rose-dew from
The love thy countenance awakens whelms Hafiz in misfortune's sea;
Death threatens him! ho there! give help, ere yet that he has ceased
While life is thine, consent not, Hafiz,
That it should speed ignobly by;
But strive thou to attain the object
Of thy existence ere thou die.
I swear--my master's soul bear witness, faith of old times, and
At early morning, my companion, is prayer for thy unceasing weal.
My tears, a more o'erwhelming deluge than was the flood which Noah
Have washed not from my bosom's tablet the image which thy love has
Come deal with me, and strike thy bargain: I have a broken heart to
Which in its ailing state out-values a hundred thousand which are well.
Be lenient, if thou deem me drunken: on the primeval day divine
Love, who possessed my soul as master, bent my whole nature unto wine.
Strive after truth that for thy solace the Sun may in thy spirit rise;
For the false dawn of earlier morning grows dark of face because it
O heart, thy friend's exceeding bounty should free thee from unfounded
This instant, as of love thou vauntest, be ready to devote thy head!
I gained from thee my frantic yearning for mountains and the barren
Yet loath art thou to yield to pity, and loosen at mid-height my chain.
If the ant casts reproach on Asaf, with justice does her tongue upbraid,
For when his Highness lost Jem's signet, no effort for the quest he
No constancy--yet grieve not, Hafiz--
Expect thou from the faithless fair;
What right have we to blame the garden,
Because the plant has withered there?
Veiled in my heart my fervent love for him dwells,
And my true eye holds forth a glass to his spells.
Though the two worlds ne'er bowed my head when elate,
Favors as his have bent my neck with their weight.
Thine be the lote, but I Love's stature would reach.
High like his zeal ascends the fancy of each.
Yet who am I that sacred temple to tread?
Still let the East that portal guard in my stead!
Spots on my robe--shall they arouse my complaint?
Nay! the world knows that he at least has no taint.
My turn has come; behold! Majnun is no more;
Five days shall fly, and each one's turn shall be o'er.
Love's ample realm, sweet joy, and all that is glad,
Save for his bounty I should never have had.
I and my heart--though both should sacrificed be,
Grant my friend's weal, their loss were nothing to me.
Ne'er shall his form within my pupil be dim,
For my eye's cell is but a chamber for him.
All the fresh blooms that on the greensward we view,
Gain but from him their scent and beauty of hue.
Hafiz seems poor;
But look within, for his breast,
Shrining his love,
With richest treasure is blest.
Prone at my friend's high gates, my Will its head lays still:
Whate'er my head awaits is ordered by that will.
My friend resembles none; in vain I sought to trace,
In glance of moon or sun, the radiance of that face.
Can morning's breeze make known what grief this heart doth hold,
Which as a bud hath grown, compressed by fold on fold?
Not I first drained the jar where rev'lers pass away:
Heads in this work-yard are nought else than wine-jars' clay.
Meseems thy comb has wreathed those locks which amber yield:
The gale has civet breathed, and amber scents the field.
Flowers of verdant nooks be strewn before thy face:
Let cypresses of brooks bear witness to thy grace!
When dumb grow tongues of men that on such love would dwell,
Why should a tongue-cleft pen by babbling strive to tell?
Thy cheek is in my heart; no more will bliss delay;
Glad omens e'er impart news of a gladder day.
Love's fire has dropped its spark
In Hafiz' heart before:
The wild-grown tulip's mark
Branded of old its core.
Breeze of the morn, if hence to the land thou fliest--Of my friend,
Return with a musky breath from the lock so sweet
Of my friend.
Yea, by that life, I swear I would lay down mine in content,
If once I received through thee but a message sent
Of my friend.
But--at that sacred court, if approach be wholly denied,
Convey, for my eyes, the dust that the door supplied
Of my friend.
I--but a beggar mean--can I hope for Union at last?
Ah! would that in sleep I saw but the shadow cast
Of my friend.
Ever my pine-cone heart, as the aspen trembling and shy,
Has yearned for the pine-like shape and the stature high
Of my friend.
Not at the lowest price would my friend to purchase me care;
Yet I, a whole world to win, would not sell one hair
Of my friend.
How should this heart gain aught,
Were its gyves of grief flung aside?
I, Hafiz, a bondsman, still
Would the slave abide
Of my friend.
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